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It's twist or bluff in transfer stakes.

Byline: ANDY KELLY Liverpool FC Editor andy.kelly@trinitymirror.com @AndyK_LivNews

T is a high stakes game of poker.

IExcept the stakes tend to be higher than any poker game that even Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu or Phil Hellmuth might find themselves in.

Poker's finest may play for millions of dollars on the turn of a card but when it comes to football transfers we are now firmly in the realms of the tens of millions. For Gylfi Sigurdsson no less.

At the centre of the transfer game are the sporting directors, the figures attempting to raise the stakes, call bluffs, assess the hand their opponent is holding and defend their position accordingly.

Liverpool this summer have seen sporting directors take centre stage as they track their three main targets of the window - Mohamed Salah, Naby Keita and Virgil van Dijk.

Each of the sporting directors of Roma, RB Leipzig and Southampton have been keen to play their hand to its strongest effect.

It is Ralf Rangnick at RB Leipzig - keeper of the keys to Naby Keita - who has been perhaps the most vociferous in playing his hand.

At various times in the last couple of weeks, he has reiterated Leipzig's stance in as plain language as he could possibly find. "We will definitely not be letting any key players go. There's nothing that will make us budge," was one Rangnick line.

"There are a lot of reports about there being a certain figure where we could be open to a sale, but they are all false," was another.

"We are not selling anyone, even if we are talking about a three-figure transfer fee and the players know that," It certainly doesn't sound good for Liverpool's hopes of landing the 22-year-old Guinean.

At Southampton the message has been similar, if less regularly repeated, on Virgil van Dijk. Perhaps it didn't need to be after Liverpool's apology and subsequent 'withdrawal' from the race.

Sporting director Les Reed said of Southampton's stars: "None of those players are for sale. I can't make it any plainer than that and that's the way we mean to go forward."

With van Dijk safely on the flight to the Saints' preseason tour of Austria today, Reed will feel he's holding a pretty strong hand at present.

We will not be letting players nothing make us RB Leipzig Ralf Liverpool, though, remain resolute in their desire to get both players to Anfield - and hold a couple of aces in their own hand too.

The fact both van Dijk and Keita want to come to Anfield may not be a deal clincher but it is a big call from both clubs to keep a player who doesn't want to be there, even if Keita has no desire "to spit" on his current club.

Then there's the words of Roma's own sporting director Monchi, the man who helped mastermind Sevilla's rise over the last few years, to Liverpool's cost in Basel.

Regarded as one of the best sporting directors in the world, Mochi made it clear just a few weeks ago that Roma "will not be a supermarket" for clubs seeking to buy their best players.

definitely any key There's On centre-back Antonio Rudiger he was pretty specific: "There's no chance that (Antonio) Rudiger will leave."

that will budge. director Rangnick " Result? Mohamed Salah is already a few days into his pre-season training at Melwood after Roma agreed a PS37m sale.

Rudiger? Announced at Chelsea yesterday for around PS34m. Leandro Paredes off to Zenit too.

Conclusion? Sporting directors are rather inclined to be economical with the truth.

The current impasse over transfers at Anfield is frustrating for all concerned. For the Reds' sporting director Michael Edwards, as he attempts to deliver the names at the top of Jurgen Klopp's wish list, and not plans B or C. For Klopp himself, no doubt desperate for certainty on his plans for the season and to get bodies on the training pitch soon as possible.

For the players themselves, who seek to further their careers at Anfield.

And most of all for supporters, keen for the promise of a top-four finish not to be diluted by a summer which lacks the reinforcements they feel are vital.

A lot of cash is going to go into the middle of the table before the final cards are played in this transfer window.

Liverpool must show they weren't bluffing and were holding a very strong hand all along.

mean to Dijk their weeks not for leave." Result"We will definitely not be letting any key players go. There's nothing that will make us budge. RB Leipzig director Ralf Rangnick

CAPTION(S):

JOHANNES SIMON Reds' target Naby Keita (main picture) and RB Leipzig's Ralf Rangnick (inset, below left) and Southampton's Les Reed (inset, below right)
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jul 11, 2017
Words:800
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